It Happened in Silence by @KarlaMJay1 is a Fall Into These Great Reads pick #historicalfiction #free
Title: It Happened in Silence
Author: Karla M. Jay
Genre: Historical Fiction
Set in a world where women of the KKK betray their neighbors, where horrors of unscrupulous foundling homes come to light, and buried mysteries are not all that hidden. It's Georgia 1921. Mute since birth, fifteen-year-old Willow Stewart has one task to complete—to leave her Appalachian homestead and find a traveling preacher and her brother, Briar. When a peddler kidnaps her, she escapes only to face an unjust arrest and penal servitude. The laws are not on her side. Or her brother’s.
Briar is serving time on a chain gang with four months left. When an immigrant boy asks him for help, Briar must decide if he should jeopardize his freedom to help the penniless boy.
Soon Willow and Briar become ensnared in a world of cruel secrets, savage truths, deceitful practices, and desperate predicaments. Will they make it home safely?
I’ve a long day before me, heading off our mountaintop to find a traveling preacher. The baby’s birth went bad, and Mama is laid up inside, doing poorly. On this sad morning, I’m angry at the birds for singing their fresh tunes, for welcoming the spill of warm sun across our rocky peak.
My one wish is to hear Mama say my name again. Soft, like a breeze through tree boughs. Willow. People’s voices create colors in my mind, and Mama’s is creamy peach. I want her to tell me everything will be fine, that she is just worn out and resting. Sorrowfully, she stopped talking hours ago.
My sister Ruthy, to be married after she turns eighteen in three months, enters the kitchen from the parlor. The blue of her eyes stands out against the bloodshot white, whether from the constant irritation of crying or the long sleepless nights. She has our Poppy’s brown hair, but it’s a messy bird’s nest this morning. I inherited Mama’s Scottish red mane and managed it into a braid last night or I’d look the same mess. She catches me staring at her hair and runs her fingers through it.
Ruthy reaches for my hand and gives it a quick squeeze. “You go sit with Mama, Willow.”
I nod. Born mute, I sign my question to her. “Has she talked again?”
“She’s still unconscious”—she straightens her flowered shift—“but breathing regular.”
My heart thuds as I push into the sitting room where we spend most evenings in the fall and winter. The oil-fired heaters that will warm the room again wait in the barn for the first cold snap. They’ve barely been packed away. Two windows are open. A spring breeze sweeps in the smooth lemony fragrance of magnolias mingling with drying mud and the biting scent of newly sawn wood. The neighbor men worked through the night building the coffin in case it’s necessary. It waits alongside the cabin, next to another smaller one. I used to love fresh-cut pine scent but now it’s ruined. I jump ahead in my mind and see Mama’s burying box, decades from now under the cover of moss, rotting there, never needed. I pray God is listening to our prayers and deciding that fate for the box. That we won’t need it. Calling home one Stewart kin member this day is pain enough.
In the center of the room, Mama lies on a single bed. A ray of sun strikes the ornate oil lamp hanging from the center beam above her. It casts a rosy glow through its hand-painted floral glass shade. Mama looks at peace, her folded arms rising and falling on the white sheet covering her. Her pale hands like two sleeping doves.
The menfolk moved great-grandmother’s Colonial-style cedar chest from the center of the room to the far wall next to Mama’s favorite padded chair and sewing stand. The stitching hoop still holds the last of the pillowcases she’s embroidering for Ruthy’s wedding to Leeman Castlelaw.
I sit in the spindle chair next to her bed and hope Mama knows it’s me. Her “silent gift” as she calls me. When it was clear as moonshine I’d never speak, she and I created a hand signaling language that works well. My older brother Briar caught on and was often my translator, especially if we ever found ourselves in unfamiliar company. But that was a rare event due to how far up in the hollow we live. Poppy, Ruthy, and my little brother, Billy Leo, understand me sometimes—but only basic ideas. If my thoughts are simple enough, like following water skeeters across a pond’s surface, they understand me. But for my below-the-surface opinions, I need Mama or Briar.
My eyes move to the three-shelf bookcase below the window. The top shelf holds one of Mama’s favorite books, Black Beauty. A tale about a horse’s early years and what his doting mother teaches him. The binding is worn from all the times she read it to us. When I recite the whole story in my head, word for word, it’s my mother’s voice I hear. I’m lucky that way. Most folks must hear their own voice when they think or have an inside-the-head conversation. Since I’ve never made even a squeak, I have mama’s speech tone in there, especially when I’m reading.
I study her hands and picture her fingers flying over the piano keys, my Poppy slapping his knee and saying, “Della Rae, you play like an angel in a vaudeville show.”
Those fingers. They braid my unruly red hair and tickle the backs of my legs. And Mama is a hand-holder. She always says holding hands is a promise between two people, a way to speak without words.
Reaching for her now, I wedge my fingers under her palm. The coolness surprises me and races straight to my throat, threatening to stop my breath. Why have I not held her hand more often? Spent more time in the house with her and less time in the forest? I’m sorry, Mama, I scream in my head. I’ll be around more. Just as soon as I get back from fetching a preacher. And trying to coax Briar home. I sob and choke and cry some more. My stomach tightens, and silence twists through the room, snakelike, burrowing through my fifteen years of happiness. If Mama passes, I wouldn’t care if I follow her into the next world because I don’t know if anything can fill the holes if I remain behind.
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What’s your favorite thing about autumn:
The scent of leaves on a crisp breeze
What inspired you to write this story:
I’d never heard that women joined the KKK by the millions or that there were baby farms. I decided to write a story that showed the injustices from 100 years ago that at time resonate today.
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Runs September 1 – 30
Drawing will be held on October 3.
Karla has written in a few genres from humor to historical fiction. Honors include recognition from The Independent Press, the Jerusalem Post, Reader Views (the Tyler R. Tichelaar Award), Book Excellence, NYC Big Book Awards, the US Review of Books, Independent Book Publishers Association, the Selfies, and others. She lives in Utah with her husband and one very big dog.
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